If the US Air Force deployed Lockheed Martin F-22s to Afghanistan today, could they do anything? Some argue the F-22 is over-engineered to fight the Taliban, which is not an unreasonable claim. But, for the sake of argument, could the F-22's current air-to-ground capabilities contribute to the attack?
Perhaps other informed bloggers, such as Bill Sweetman, Eric Palmer and Dave Majumdar, could contribute here, but this is what I think.
The F-22 has a weapons bay equipped to store two GBU-32 joint direct attack munitions. In theory, yes, it could attack ground targets. But the F-22 needs more than a weapon to attack ground targets. The aircraft must have the means to receive updates about the target after taking off. This is where the current state of the F-22's capabilities get complicated.
As a stealthy aircraft, the US Air Force equipped the F-22 to transmit data only with other F-22s on a low-probability of intercept signal. As far as we know, no other aircraft has the ability to exchange data with the F-22. That is expected to change with the arrival of the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) in 2015. Even then, the MADL will allow the F-22 to share data about targets only with other stealth aircraft, such as the F-35 and B-2.
There is an interesting "but" here. In fact, the F-22 may have the ability to share data with troops on the ground today, but the USAF has declined my requests to confirm that information. In April 2008, the USAF demonstrated that the F-22's solitary waveform could plug into the battlefield network. The USAF used a Northrop Grumman system installed on a Bombardier Global Express XRS regional jet to translate the F-22's intraflight data link into Link 16. The same software could be used to "bridge" the F-22 signal into a CDMA waveform, which is the standard used for many mobile phones.
Last month, the USAF announced that the Northrop Grumman system -- hilariously called BACN, or battlefield airborne communications node -- is now operational, and has been flying in Afghanistan and Iraq since at least last November. BACN has been deployed because it can patch ground radios into the Link 16 network used by most non-stealthy combat aircraft.
The question now is whether the F-22 bridging demonstration last year has become an operational capability. As I said before, the USAF has declined to answer my requests for this information. So we don't know. But it is possible.